Definitions of Various Divorce Approaches

Each approach has pros and cons; however, these definitions are in no way intended to imply that any one approach is better than the others.

FULL TEAM INTERDISCIPLINARY COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE

Full team interdisciplinary divorce is based on the idea that building experts into the process from the beginning ultimately saves time, money, and frustration, and increases confidence in the outcome. The major areas of divorce are each attended to by a specialist in that area: experienced divorce attorneys will provide legal advice and representation to each spouse, a financial planner who is certified in divorce financial planning provides various short-term and long-term scenarios regarding division of property and cash flow (i.e., alimony and/or child support), coaches assist in promoting effective communication and keeping the process on track, and when children are involved a child psychologist who specializes in divorce provides information on the many issues related to children and divorce. Similar to collaborative divorce, this approach encourages non-adversarial conflict resolution and interest-based negotiation to come to a fair settlement agreement. The main difference between this approach and non-full-team collaborative divorce is that outside experts are built into this process from the beginning, resulting in many less impasses and overall a process that flows very well as potential road bumps are preemptively identified and effectively handled by the expert team. Also importantly, whereas in adversarial divorce the children’s emotions and experience can unintentionally become collateral damage in the fight, this process protects the children from extreme emotional fallout by keeping the divorce as low conflict as possible. Click here for information on the divorce expert-team approach.

COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE

The collaborative process for divorce builds on mediation as an alternative to traditional adversarial divorce in that attorneys try to help clients amicably reach agreement, but it is notably different from mediation in that both spouses hire an attorney to represent them. When impasses arise, outside experts (typically financial or child specialists) may be used; some collaborative attorneys encourage clients to use experts early in the process to avoid impasses (see our Divorce Expert-Team Approach for an integrated collaborative model that involves all relevant specialists from the start). The most unique feature of the collaborative process is the signing of the collaborative pledge, in which divorcing spouses and their attorneys all agree that the attorneys are disqualified from going to court. This disqualification removes the process from the adversarial court system, the theory being that removing the threat of contentious litigation will take the fear, hostility, and negativity out of the negotiations and instead allow parties to utilize non-adversarial conflict resolution and interest-based negotiation to come to a fair settlement agreement. Many traditional/adversarial attorneys will say, when asked if they do “collaborative divorce,” that they do “collaborative,” but they may simply mean that they are willing to avoid adversary and try to work amicably; however, it is not truly collaborative divorce unless parties and attorneys sign the collaborative pledge, so a better question would be at ask an attorney if they sign the collaborative pledge barring themselves from representing you in litigation. Click here for information on ways we can be helpful in collaborative divorce.

MEDIATION

You and your spouse reach a settlement with the help of a third, neutral party. Mediators can be lawyers, mental health professionals, clergy, or other professionals. The mediator’s role is to facilitate discussions between spouses in order to help you and your spouse identify and resolve issues. Outside experts (typically financial or child specialists) may also be used in mediation, as neutrals to help spouses come to agreements. An important thing to understand is that mediators cannot give either of you legal advice (this is the case even if your mediator is an attorney), and are not a substitute for having your own lawyer who can provide legal advice and representation if you feel you need that. The mediator’s role is to help you and your spouse communicate and reach agreement, whereas a lawyer’s role is to make sure your legal rights are protected. If both spouses feel reasonably competent to negotiate for themselves, then mediation can be an excellent way to reduce conflict, cost, and time in the divorce process. There are also ways to add attorney involvement to the mediation process, thus providing parties with legal advice and representation yet still utilizing mediation versus the adversarial process.

TRADITIONAL DIVORCE / ADVERSARIAL APPROACH / LITIGATION APPROACH

You and your spouse each hire an attorney to represent you; traditional divorce is based on the adversarial model. However, attorneys are often able to help clients settle and avoid court. In a traditional divorce, the attorneys communicate the terms of offers and counteroffers to try and reach a compromise agreement. The spouses may be instructed not to discuss the terms of the agreement with their spouse. When impasses arise, outside experts (typically financial or child specialists) may be used. If impasses cannot be worked out, the case ultimately proceeds to litigation. Attorneys who practice traditional adversarial divorce are least likely to use qualifiers to the word “divorce,” thus if you see an attorney who simply lists themselves as a family law attorney who does divorce, then that person most likely follows this approach. Conversely, providers of mediation, collaborative divorce, or the expert-team approach will note that in their descriptions of services. Click here for information on ways we can be helpful in traditional divorce.

DO-YOUR-OWN-DIVORCE

Typically refers to people who write their own separation agreement and file their own paperwork with the court. This requires an amicable relationship between the spouses and a willingness to do quite a lot of work in becoming knowledgeable about how to file legal paperwork. There are many variations on this, for example, spouses sometimes seek a one-time consult with an attorney, child specialist or financial planner in the process of designing their agreement; the “do-your-own” primarily refers to the extensive legal paperwork. However, even that isn’t absolute; some people refer to doing their own divorce if they worked out the specifics of the separation agreement among themselves and then hired an attorney to do the paperwork.